What sort of leaders do you want for your church? It’s a good question to ask, because how you answer will have a profound effect on the church you have. There are all sorts of jokes about the job specs that churches put together for their leaders and how they wouldn’t have employed Jesus! There are also a lot of not at all funny stories of leaders who destroy their churches and churches that destroy their leaders.
So again, as we start a new church, it’s worth thinking about what the Bible teaches us about leading a church well. There are actually quite a few places we could go, but we recently went to Paul’s seminar for church elders in Acts 20:17-38 in one of our Growth Group sessions (we’ve been working through some passages on church which I’ve taken from the book Body Beautiful by Melvin Tinker and Nathan Buttery).
There’s lots in there, but here are two important things Paul addresses.
As I read the passage, I couldn’t help but feel Paul’s total commitment to serve. On the one hand, it’s obvious that he is driven by serving his Lord (Acts 20:19, 22-25). Jesus gave him a ministry to preach the gospel (Acts 20:24) and he will suffer anything, including death, to serve Jesus in that ministry (Acts 20:23, 25).
On the other hand, it’s also clear that his ministry of serving Jesus works its way out in a passionate desire to serve the people in the church. It’s interesting to note, for example, how many tears are involved in this (Acts 20:19, 31, 37). Even when he had to “admonish” them, it was done with tears! He has spent time, effort and money (Acts 20:31, 33-35), because he cared so much about them and their good. His life was transparent to them and a model to them (Acts 20:18-19).
So you want a leader who will serve Jesus as their Lord, whatever it takes. And you want a leader who, following Jesus, will love and serve his people, seeking the best for them.
When we think of our pastors, or elders, or ministers in those terms it become clear how little the focus should be on them. It makes sense that Paul starts with “humility” in v.19. It’s also a challenge. We don’t want celebrities, nor do we want leaders with outstanding gifts that are used to show how outstanding the leader is! It will be possible to have an impressive and effective organisation that will be poorly led in Paul’s terms, because serving Jesus and his people will not be at the centre of the church. When a leader destroys a church, it is usually because he is at the centre!
But note too how much the elders loved Paul. We he sent, they came (Acts 20:17-18) and when he left (for the last time), they were heart-broken (Acts 20:37-38). A healthy church, with healthy leaders, loves their leaders. A church that destroys leaders often does so simply because they do not care for and love their leaders.
What did Paul actually do? Well it’d be pretty hard to miss it! He declared, taught and testified to the good news of Jesus (Acts 20:20-21). That was his ministry (Acts 20:24). He is innocent of their blood (Acts 20:26), because he taught them so thoroughly (“the whole counsel of God”) (Acts 20:26-27). He taught in public, he went house to house (Acts 20:20). He taught Jews and Greeks (Acts 20:21). He didn’t cease night and day for three years (Acts 20:31). When they got it wrong he wasn’t scared to tell them, even though it hurt him so much he was in tears (Acts 20:31).
Why was it so important to teach? Because it is the word which brings salvation by grace, build us up in the faith by grace, makes us holy by grace and brings us to our inheritance (heaven) by grace (Acts 20:32). Teaching the truth faithfully is especially critical because there will always be wolves, false teachers, who try to destroy Christians (Acts 20:29-30). So Paul is charging the leaders to make sure they are clear and faithful, so that they continue to teach what he taught and keep the people on track when they’re under attack (Acts 20:28).
So we want leaders committed to teaching the message of Jesus and his apostles, i.e. the Bible. That means we want leaders who come under the Bible’s authority themselves and who make every effort to lead the church with the Bible – teaching its truth and applying its truth. And they need to be willing to teach all of it – including the hard and unpopular bits. The Bible teaching should lead in our services. Bible teaching should drive our pastoral care. This is why, elsewhere, Paul makes a big deal about leaders needing to be able to teach and handle the Bible faithfully (1 Timothy 3:2; 2Timothy 1:13-14; 2:2, 15).
While being an amazing public speaker may be useful, it is positively dangerous in a church leader not rooted in Scripture. While being an inspirational leader may be a positive thing, it will be a disaster if the leader is going in an unbiblical direction. We need leaders who are committed to faithfully teaching the message of the Bible.
No church leader is Jesus, the head of the church. No church leader will be perfect. But a good church leader will be committed to serving his Lord and his people and he will do it by being committed to teaching the Bible persistently and faithfully. Churches, we should love these leaders!